Summer of Smarties!

Chocolate beans

At York’s Chocolate Story we are celebrating a Summer of Smarties! Do you know the story behind the iconic York-born chocolates?

Rowntree's factory in York, the makers of Smarties
Rowntree’s factory in York, the makers of Smarties

The Origins of Smarties

A form of Smarties in England can actually be traced back to the Middle Ages when sugar-coated nuts became popular. The elite social classes ate them to ease digestion.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, chocolate treats started to become the centrepieces of confectioners. French confectioners created “Crotte de Lapin”, a joke sweet that mimicked a rabbits droppings. While they became popular with the wealthy, there was a design flaw: the chocolate stained the gloves worn by upper class women. To stop this, confectioners started coating the chocolates in sugar. Chocolate was an expensive luxury at this time.

In the late 19th century a new technique called “panning” was invented. This created a sweet covered in a sugar shell, called a “dragee”.

Chocolate Nibs and Chocolate Beans

Rowntree’s sold their own disc-shaped chocolates called Chocolate Nibs.

A French confectioner called Claude Gaget introduced dragee to the company in 1879 and they decided to rename the product Chocolate Beans. It had moderate success over the next fifty years and was sold by some familiar names, such as Marks & Spencer.

Then their Marketing Director, George Harris, returned from the U.S inspired by how American companies were creating brands with personality for products. A lot of products were renamed. Harris also started to make chocolates more affordable after conducting a survey of customers and retailers raised concerns over the affordability of products. In 1935, Rowntree’s was selling boxes of chocolates that cost 100 shillings. At the time an average factory worker’s rent in York was 10 shillings.

In 1937, Harris decided the Chocolate Bean needed a new name. The famous Smarties brand was created, though the exact reason why this name was chosen is unknown.

Chocolate Beans, now called Smarties
Chocolate Beans

The Success of Smarties

They were so popular it exceed the company’s expectations. By 1938 a new factory block had to be built focused only on making smarties. Only a few months later it had to be expanded.

By 1939, there were four flavours: milk, plain, coffee and orange. Instead of the traditional expensive tins, smarties were packaged in cardboard tubes.

The outbreak of war meant they had to halt production. Initially, milk-free products could be produced, such as a plain chocolate KitKat in a blue packet. Though a year later they had to stop all confectionery production, apart from ration chocolate. Sugar rationing continued until 1953.

Wartime KitKat. Text on packaging reads: because no milk can be obtained for chocolate manufacture the Chocolate Crisp as you knew it in peacetime can no longer be made. KitKat is the nearest possible product at this present time.
Wartime KitKat

When Smarties production restarted in the 1960s, the bright multi-coloured treats became a favourite post-war product for people.

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Modern Smarties

Rowntree’s, now owned by Nestle, still have a York Headquarters.

In 2005, the cylindrical tube got replaced by a hexagonal tube. The decision caused outrage amongst collectors of the initial packaging.

They temporarily removed the blue Smartie over concerns about artificial colourings. However, it was reintroduced after Nestle started using a form of sea algae to create a natural blue dye.

Smarties remain one of the most popular chocolates in the country.

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8 Famous Chocolate Brand Slogans

I heart chocolate bar

There have been many memorable slogans from chocolate brands over the years. Unwrap these famous taglines and see how many you recognise.

1. Have a Break…Have a KitKat®

KitKat® was invented in York by Rowntree’s and introduced in 1935 as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp®. It used the original slogan, ‘Enjoy a break at teatime’ with the four-finger bar, the first to be released. It became the KitKat Chocolate Crisp® in 1937 and eventually just KitKat® in 1949. The well-known slogan ‘Have a Break…Have a KitKat®’ has been used since 1958.

KitKat advert featuring the famous “Have a break…Have a KitKat” slogan

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2. It’s not for girls!

The Yorkie® campaign attracted controversy, including an investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency after complaints of sexism. Interestingly, however the campaign led to an increase in sales of the bar to females. Yorkie®, introduced by Rowntree’s in 1976, takes its name from its home city of York. From the start the marketing campaigns targeted a male audience and used other slogans based on gender stereotypes as part of their marketing, such as “not available in pink”. Yorkie removed the slogan from the bars in 2012.

3. It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine

Terry’s is another famous chocolate company that originated in York. Terry’s Chocolate Orange® has had a range of famous marketing slogans including, ‘Smash it to pieces, love it to bits,’ ‘Tap it and Unwrap it,’ ‘Don’t tap it…Whack it!’ and of course ‘It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine’ made famous by the Dawn French advertising campaigns. Terry’s heavily promote it at Christmas as a popular stocking filler.

Terry’s Chocolate Lemon with one of their famous slogans on top

4. Get the sensation

York Peppermint Pattie was invented by a York resident, but not the York we call home. Instead, it was York, Pennsylvania in the United States, that inspired this chocolate company. The famous campaign launched in 1972. The tagline is still used today, though the York Peppermint Pattie has changed owners and is now part of Hershey’s.

5. Only Smarties® have the answer

One of their oldest products, released in 1882 as Rowntree’s Chocolate Beans®. The sugar-coated chocolate drops re-branded as Smarties® in 1937 to appeal more to children. The slogan has been in use since the late 1970s.

6. Do you eat the red ones last?

Preceding ‘Only Smarties® have the answer’, ‘Do you eat the red ones last?’ was the main slogan, introduced in a catchy song for a TV advertisement, and it is still occasionally used today. The chocolates are coated in eight different colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, mauve, pink and brown. Do you eat your Smarties in a particular order?

7. Feel the bubbles

Aero® bars were introduced by Rowntree’s in 1935, initially only in the North of England. High sales meant the bars started to be sold across the country and then expanded internationally. The slogan featured in a 2009 campaign and reflects the bars “bubbly” texture.

8. Welcome to York. Where the men are hunky and the chocolate chunky

Another Yorkie® advert, this one emphasising the bar’s connection to York. Trains arriving at York Railway Station would pass a billboard that said “Welcome to”, followed by a picture of a Yorkie bar with the end unwrapped. This formed the slogan “Welcome to York. Where the men are hunky and the chocolate chunky”. We will leave it to you to decide how accurate it is.

How many of the famous chocolate slogans did you recognise? Unwrap centuries of the history of York’s chocolate industry on a tour, browse delicious chocolates in our shop or try one of our signature hot chocolates. Find out more here.